A little more than halfway through Kool & the Gang’s show at the Blaisdell Concert Hall on Tuesday night, the band segued from the ’70s cool jazz of “Summer Madness” into their signature ’80s ballad “Cherish,” a reminder that life is fleeting and that we should live it to the fullest.
Though the song is ostensibly about two lovers, that sentiment has seemed to hit home more than usual this year.
After my friend Jesse raved about Prince’s “Piano & a Microphone” performance in Oakland in March, I had dreams of the Purple One bringing a similar show here, but less than two months later that vanished for Prince fans everywhere when he was found dead at Paisley Park, his home and studio in Minnesota.
Likewise, fans of David Bowie, the Eagles’ Glenn Frey and Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest will never see those artists perform again after their deaths this year.
As 2016 has been an especially dark year, it has presented us with a reminder to take every opportunity we have to appreciate the artists who bring joy to our lives.
Few performers are as essential to so many people as Prince was, but with their Honolulu show, Kool & the Gang offered a reminder that they should also be cherished while we still have the chance.
The 11-piece band — including four members who were there for the start more than 50 years ago — delivered nearly 90 high-energy minutes of hits, leaving out none of their biggest, though a few were sadly truncated.
Known for flawlessly combining funk, soul, disco and pop, Kool & the Gang have also shown an ability to rock out at times, but the one flaw in the show was giving short shrift to that side of the band, as they fused their heaviest guitar tracks — “Tonight” and “Misled” — into a medley of sorts, with a burst from “Emergency” serving as a transition. That was early in the show, though — after a hip-hop flourish that opened the concert turned into “Fresh” — and there would not be a misstep the rest of the night.
After they breezed through “Joanna,” Shawn McQuiller took back lead vocal duties from Lavell Evans for “Too Hot.” McQuiller pumped the crowd up with many of the concert staples of the past 30 years — “Wave your hands in the air,” “Everybody SCREAM!,” etc. For a second they felt like cliches, until you realize that if Kool & the Gang didn’t invent those chants, they at least helped refine them. Sure, they’ve been doing them for 30 years, but they still work. The crowd’s juices were flowing, and by the time the band launched into “Jungle Boogie” a few minutes later, followed by “Hollywood Swinging,” most of the audience was on its feet.
The group then slowed things down with “Summer Madness” before Evans provided one of the night’s highlights, climbing down off the stage and into the crowd to sing “Cherish,” singling out a fan named Audrey. Forget picking out one fan to sing to — Evans flirted innocently with Audrey, wrapping his arm around her as he sang before departing with an embrace. That’s one way to connect with the audience.
McQuiller followed with more of the same, joining hands with a woman in the front row briefly as he sang “Take My Heart (You Can Have It If You Want It).”
After a foray into the reggae lilt of “Let’s Go Dancin’ (Ooh La, La, La),” Kool & the Gang kicked it up a notch for the home stretch, starting by calling all the women to the front of the stage for “Ladies’ Night,” indulging as many as they could with high/low fives and selfies, before going out strong with “Get Down On It” and party standard “Celebration,” the crowd standing through all three.
They did all that without the ego stroking of an encore (a concert staple I’ve been calling for an end to for a while), which left the audience puzzled and dazed. Or maybe they just wanted a little more time to cherish a favorite band they love but may never get to experience live again.